3.5. Virtual Office Hours & Student Communication

One important component of resilient teaching is to design and use systems that will work in different situations.  Offering virtual office hours is a great way to connect with both on-campus and remote students. In the event that courses are disrupted, the established virtual office hours will seamlessly transition. Students appreciate them, too - after the spring 2020 semester, ND students specifically requested the continued/increased use of Zoom office hours in regular instruction. 

Communicating Expectations

It is very important that you clearly communicate the expectations and logistics of your virtual office hours.  Tell students when you are holding office hours, how you will facilitate the meetings, what platform you will use, and why students should attend them. You can include this information in your syllabus, and/or by posting directions in Sakai.  Including this information on the Sakai landing page is a great way to make the process simple to find.   

Things to Consider in Setting Up Virtual Office Hours

  • The dates /times/location should be clearly communicated to the students.
  • You may want to hold distinct virtual office hours for different courses.
  • Student Privacy is important to consider.  Keep private conversations in private Zoom rooms. 
  • When possible, consider selecting times that best meet the needs of your students.
  • The focus and type (see below) of the session should be specified to the students.

Types of Virtual Office Hours 

  • Individually Scheduled Virtual Office Hour Meeting:  For this option, a student signs up for a time slot to meet individually with the faculty member.  For scheduling these meetings, consider tools like Google Calendar Appointment Slots or Calendly. Maintain privacy during back-to-back meetings by using the Zoom Waiting Room
  • Drop-In Virtual Office Hours:  In this option, students can freely join a video meeting during a specified time to ask questions and speak with you. Students may remain in the room as others join and ask their questions. 
  • TA Supported Office Hours: For larger courses, it might be helpful to offer a session with the assistance of TAs.  This can allow for TAs to use the Breakout Room feature of Zoom to meet with individuals or a small group to go over a specific question or process.
  • Group Office Hours:  This option can be used if you anticipate hearing a lot of the same type of questions, which is fairly common before a test or big assignment. At the beginning of the group office hour session, make sure you have set clear expectations and format for the session, as you would for a normal class meeting. 
  • Asynchronous Virtual Office Hour: For students unable to attend live office hours, solicit questions through a discussion forum in Sakai. Instructors or TAs can offer timely responses in writing, or even record responses in video or audio formats. Though this might take more effort, a study from Li, Finley, Pitts, and Guo (2011) shows that this form is often preferred by students.  Asynchronous methods (e.g., discussion forums) also offer archival features, making it possible for all students to benefit from conversations between faculty and students.A few tips on using this asynchronous approach:
    • Communicate clearly with students about what they can expect in terms of response time - will you respond every evening around 9pm? Within 24 hours of posting?  
    • When using a Sakai Forum, be sure to turn on the “watch” setting so that you receive a notification when a student posts a question.
    • Provide a clear description of the purpose of the discussion forum.  You may wish to designate a particular focus for each thread.  For example, a forum specifically on “Homework Questions,” “Article Questions,” or “Course logistics,” as a means to guide the conversation.